If there’s one thing businesses have learned over the last 12-18 months, it’s that resilience, agility, and adaptability are more important than ever. Modern organizations must be able to rapidly respond to unexpected disruption, be that a global pandemic or a cyber-attack.
At the same time, they must be able to pivot their operations and strategies in the face of challenges such as rapidly evolving marketplaces and increasingly competitive business landscapes. This all requires a solid technology foundation that can flex to meet unforeseen situations and support future growth…and that foundation lives in the cloud.
This is something more and more businesses are realizing. According to Gartner, global cloud revenue will grow from $408 billion in 2021 to $474 billion in 2022, with 85% of organizations set to embrace a cloud-first principle by 2025. However, unless you’re a ‘born in the cloud’ start-up or your name is Netflix, chances are you haven’t quite nailed your cloud transformation journey. And that’s okay; 90% of CIOs have experienced failed or disrupted data migration projects.
What’s clear is that those businesses that fail to embrace the transformational power of cloud risk losing out to their digitally minded competitors. And it’s up to CIOs to lead the charge. But how can they build a cloud-first culture? On a recent episode of the Cloudreach Cloudbusting podcast, Cloudreach head of strategy and professional services, Dave Chapman discussed this very timely issue with Jake Burns, enterprise strategist at AWS.
The first question CIOs must answer, is what does it mean to be cloud-native?
As Chapman explains, “The cloud-native enterprise is an organization that has adopted not just the technology of cloud, but also the ways of working and culture that are connected to cloud. These organizations use that energy and rate of innovation – as well as the new technical possibilities – to fundamentally change something about what they do as a business.”
Cloud native can be thought of as a maturity model. Organizations must strive to reach a level of maturity where they understand cloud in the context of how it brings true business value.
As Burns says, “True business value isn’t just cost or time to market. True business value is being able to do things that your competitors who aren’t in the cloud can’t do. It’s being able to try 100 different things, not a quarter or a day, but an hour. And if you can’t do that, you’re facing an existential crisis.”
In practical terms, businesses must connect the dots between the two core cloud adoption patterns: IT centric (which is generally cost driven with a definitive end goal) and business experimentation (when certain business units adopt some form of cloud or SaaS service). Joining up these strategies – while combining them with a leadership ambition and culture to drive a new way of doing things – has quickly become core to the most successful digital businesses. In fact, it’s now the only way to break through to new levels of performance.
This is where the role of the CIO comes into sharp focus. Both Chapman and Burns agree that the CIO could be the most important executive when it comes to cloud transformation and leading this culture shift.
“Technology is powering all organizations, whether you’re a technology company or not. It’s going to make or break your success and it’s the CIO who can bridge the business and the technology,” says Burns.
But what does this mean in practical terms? What advice can we give to CIOs to help them connect the dots and help their organization realize the benefits that cloud promises?
Taking the next step
According to Burns, CIOs should start by using cloud to embrace failure. One of the biggest benefits of the cloud is the power of iterative trialing to drive innovation and speed to market. This will naturally lead to a lot of failure, which is how the most successful organizations learn and develop – but it can be costly. Luckily, the cloud is built to minimize this risk.
“The new way of doing business is to stop analyzing and start doing. Of course, to do this you must lower the cost of failure. If you don’t do that, it’s suicidal. Once you lower the cost of failure – and just implementing the cloud gets you a lot of the way there – then it’s about trying as many things as possible.”
Ultimately, by resetting their idea of failure and leveraging technology to bring the cost of failure down to as close to zero as possible, CIOs can start building a culture that puts cloud experimentation at the core.
Next, CIOs must be prepared to bring the entire organization along for the journey rather than just limiting it to the IT department. Cloud isn’t designed to be kept in IT, highlighting a need to drive cloud education, fluency, and engagement across the organization as a whole.
“We’ve seen a couple of organizations go through the process of training all their project leaders up front, and there was a big difference in terms of how they’re immediately talking about using the cloud and getting excited about it,” says Chapman. “This has the lovely side effect of turbo-charging your project.”
Finally, remember that your people are the key to solving business problems using the cloud. Empower them to try new things, celebrate learnings rather than punishing failures and, most importantly, look internally rather than externally.
As Burns says: “How do you hire people with the skills you need? You don’t. You take the people you have, which are in a much better position to do this anyway and give them the skills and opportunities they need. They will be so grateful that you gave them this opportunity and they will run with it and do great things for you. Use the people you have.”
The last 12 months has shown that time is running out for organizations to adopt a cloud-first mindset. It’s therefore up to CIOs to lead their organizations into the era of the cloud-native enterprise and a more agile and resilient future. This will require not just an IT transformation, but a cultural change that embraces failure and generates excitement for the opportunities of cloud that radiates beyond IT. Those organizations that fail to do this will struggle to keep up.
To hear more of this conversation and other topics, check out the Cloudbusting podcast, available on your favorite podcast app.
Jez Ward is head of advisory and executive cloud advisor at Cloudreach, and co-host of the Cloudbusting podcast. He is an experienced COO, CIO and strategist who excels in implementing, managing, and supporting global IT projects, with a special focus on public cloud adoption and digital transformation.